On Monday in St. Andrews, light duty for players and fans

On Monday in St. Andrews, light duty for players and fans

Phil Mickelson, center, led a large contingent down the 18th fairway on Monday. <strong><a href="http://www.golf.com/golf/gallery/article/0,28242,2003211,00.html">More Photos</a></strong>
Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images

ST. ANDREWS — At 6:30 this morning a bleary eyed Mark Calcavecchia shuffled into the baggage claim at Glasgow Airport. In jean shorts and an untucked short-sleeve shirt, he evoked Mark Harmon from Summer School. Never mind that Calc’s wife, Brenda, packed her wares in Louis Vuitton; the ’89 Open champ wheeled his sticks through customs in a shabby red travel bag. Next stop: The Old Course, where all kinds of other oddities awaited on the first official day of practice for the 2010 Open Championship.

There was Vijay Singh, who tried to hit at least a dozen balls out of the dastardly pot bunker fronting the 16th green. (Half of his blasts deflected off the wall and rolled back to Veej’s feet, luring a wicked smile — or was it a grimace? — from the big Fijian.) There was the infamous Bollinger pavilion, where Open cognoscenti go to be seen, and obscene. The Bolly tent has been known to move north of 1,000 bottles of champagne on a busy tournament day, but it was eerily quiet Monday, the calm before the bubbly storm. And then there were Nick Watney and Dustin Johnson, gabbing their way through a practice round with Phil Mickelson. Lefty won their match, but with Watney and Johnson knotted after 18, a playoff resulted. The challenge: the treacherous Costantino Rocco putt from the Valley of Sin. Watney’s try came up 20 feet short and he couldn’t two-putt. Johnson hit his putt to three feet, a remarkable effort. Game over.

But the real fun was up the road, off the links. Where else in major championship golf can you step off the grandstand behind 18 and find yourself surrounded by places like Bibi’s Café, which courts patrons with cauliflower and brie soup, hot smoked salmon salad, and outdoor seating. Or the Dunvegan Hotel, a historic watering hole where Paula Creamer celebrated her 21st birthday (with 21 pink balloons) in 2007 and whose American owner was this afternoon grilling burgers and cracking jokes on the veranda above the sidewalk. Or the St. Andrews Citizen, a shop filled with golfing tchotchkes and the site of an upcoming Peter Alliss interview. (His subject: Old Tom Morris impersonator David Joy.) And, look! Who’s this hurrying past the Citizen? Robert Allenby! The Aussie pro had no time for window-shopping. He slipped into a silver Kia hatchback and motored off. A Kia? Won’t see that at Pebble Beach.

By the time Allenby disappeared, the morning chill and cloud cover had given way to big blue skies. The town’s charming walkways were jammed, and the pubs were abuzz. On Market Street, a man in his 60s in a Panama hat and beige blazer asked me if ticketholders could re-enter the Open once they had exited. I didn’t know. He was the chatty type and went on to tell me he was a “stats man.” I’m not sure what that is, but he was an engaging soul. He had a faint Irish brogue and friends in high places, including Jim Brewer, who played with Tiger Woods last week in the J.P. McManus Pro-Am in Ireland, or so the stats man claimed.

The stats man never explained his qualifications, but he said he likes Justin Leonard to win this week, in part because Leonard needed just 110 putts at the U.S. Open in June. “And McDowell needed 111,” the stats man noted. (Leonard actually took 115 putts, but you get the stats man’s point.) Curious about Leonard’s odds, I dropped by the local Ladbrokes. The betting parlor, I thought, was surprisingly slow for Open week, as has been the action on Leonard (he’s 100:1 at the moment). Joe at the desk said that no player has attracted a majority of the wagering — not Tiger at 5:1; or Phil or Rory, the next favorites at 16:1; not Justin Rose, the game’s hottest player and a past winner on the Old Course at 25:1; not McDowell, the Pebble slayer, at a distant 33:1. Not Padraig Harrington, whose two Open wins seem a generation ago, at 20:1.

“I want to go out and win more majors, and if anything I’m too pushy, too hard, and trying too hard,” Harrington told the press this afternoon, explaining in part his long-ish odds. “It’s not about sitting back and doing your normal thing and relaxing a little bit and enjoying it, let’s say.”

In other words, exactly what most of St. Andrews seemed to be doing today. Next door to the Dunvegan, at a pub named 1 Golf Place, a poster pasted to the window advertised bottles of Veuve Clicquot champagne for 40 quid. A couple sitting in the front window, all lovey-dovey, had indulged. A half-finished bottle of Veuve sat in an orange ice bucket on the bar next to them. Golf didn’t appear to be on their minds, and who could blame them? It was Monday.